Thursday, August 19, 2010

Software Is The New Hardware

Today Intel announced that it is buying McAfee for $7.7 billion. This acquisition made people scratch their heads. Why McAfee?

The obvious arguments are that Intel has hit the growth wall and organic growth is not good enough to satisfy the shareholders. But this argument quickly falls apart from margin perspective. Why dilute their current nice gross margin even if McAfee has steady revenue stream? [Read my update at the end of the post]

I believe there are two reasons. The first is that the companies need a balanced product and revenue mix regardless of different margins. Oracle bought Sun and HP bought EDS. Big companies do this all the time. The second, not so obvious, reason is a recognition that software is new hardware. The processors are processors – they are a commodity any which way you look at them. It is not news to anyone that the computing has become commodity which is the basis of utility style cloud computing. Software, embedded or otherwise, has significant potential to sell value-added computing. The security solutions could fit in nicely on a piece of chip. When you drive a few miles from Intel’s headquarters to meet folks at nVidia you will be amazed to see what kind of value a software tool kit can derive from the processors.

I don’t know how Intel will execute the merger considering the fact that this is their largest acquisition ever. But, I am even more convinced that software is the new hardware. Cloud computing, data center automation, virtualization, network security, and a range of other technologies can leverage software in a chip that is optimized for a set of specialized tasks. Time to move from commodity to specialized computing until specialized computing becomes commodity. Interesting times!

Update: Romit sent me a message commenting that how McAfee will dilute Intel’s margin since McAfee’s gross margin is more than Intel. I should clarify. The assumption on the street is that the cost of capital for this purchase is about 4% and Intel expects 8% return on the investment even after paying 60% premium for the purchase. The tricky part is that how long Intel can maintain the close to 75% software margin of a software company operating inside a hardware company. When I say diluting the margin I mean diluting the overall combined margin post-purchase. The analysts are skeptical about the success of the merger and so am I. Intel has no track record of integrating large software companies such as McAfee especially after paying significantly higher than average premium. Hypothetically if Intel were to buy a company with more synergies that can leverage existing channels and can fit into their culture they could have increased the gross margin and hence the return to their shareholders.


Anonymous said...

HP bought EDS

Chirag Mehta said...

Thanks! Fixed the typo.